Cedar City • Segments of nine rivers and streams in southwest Utah have been deemed eligible for possible protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment on the proposed designations through Oct. 31.
The stream sections, which total only 14 miles, were identified in a draft evaluation report released Monday that covers BLM waters in Iron and Beaver counties. The only stream so far in Utah to contain such a designation, which must be approved by Congress, is a section of the Virgin River in Washington County.
Gina Ginouves, a planning and environmental specialist for the BLM in Cedar City, said to be eligible for the designation, rivers must have at least one "outstandingly remarkable value," including scenic qualities, the presence of wildlife or cultural resources.
Among examples cited in the report are sections of Birch Creek, which harbors a rare strain of Bonneville cutthroat trout, and the cultural value of pioneer-era graffiti chiseled in rocks near Sand Cliff Spring northeast of Cedar City.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which became law in 1968, protects rivers in any of three categories:
• Wild rivers are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines that are essentially primitive and waters that are unpolluted.
• Scenic rivers are generally free of impoundments, with largely primitive and undeveloped shorelines or watersheds, but accessible in places by roads. In this category, the river segment may contain more development than a wild river. For example, roads may cross the river in places but generally don't run parallel to it.
• Recreational rivers are readily accessible by road or railroad, may have some development along their shorelines, and may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past. This classification does not mean the river will be managed or prioritized for recreational use or development.
Ginouves said the report and public feedback will be studied further as part of an environmental impact statement for the Cedar City BLM office resource management plan expected to be completed in about a year.
She said the nine river sections are a starting point, and that all may not make it into the final document. In May, the public was asked to submit suggestions for designation, two of which came from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
SUWA attorney Liz Thomas said Kanarra Creek and Spring Creek were chosen because they cut through wilderness study areas and deserve protection for their wild values.
"I'm impressed with the [BLM report]," said Thomas. "They did a thorough job of identifying eligible stream segments in the planning area. ... For the first round of planning, we are pleased."
The designation of a section of the Virgin River was approved in 2009 by Congress because of its inclusion in the Washington County Lands Bill.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said getting rivers or sections of streams designated as wild and scenic is difficult because of the required congressional approval.
Frankel said his group has been identifying rivers for designation throughout Utah, but a congressional sponsor is needed and no one has shown much passion. Utah has a dismal record of protecting its streams, he said, and a more concerted effort is needed.
"We need to do a lot more to protect our [river] ecosystems in a desert state," Frankel said on Monday. "Now is the time to ask how many Utah rivers should continue to exist. We can't be as gluttonous and as wasteful of water as in the past."
The BLM is seeking public comment on the possible eligibility of nine Utah streams for designation under Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. To view the report, go to http://on.doi.gov/psoECa and click on "Draft Wild and Scenic River Report." Comments will be taken until Oct. 31 and can be e-mailed to: email@example.com.
Or mail them to: Gina Ginouves, BLM Planning and NEPA Specialist, Cedar City Field Office, 176 E. DL Sargent Drive, Cedar City, UT 84721